African Traditional Religion:
A Bahá'i View

By Akwasi Osei

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #14
Bahá'í Centre: Manchester, England
July 4–6, 1997
(see list of papers from #14)

published in Bahá'í Faith and the World's Religions, pages ?-?
© 2005, ‘Irfán Colloquia

    Many things African have largely been misunderstood by Westerners. African Traditional Religion is one such thing that largely remains unappreciated, in this case not so much because the African peoples are themselves not much understood, but because the pheniomenon of religion is not appreciated, outside the Bahá'i world, as being progressive and time-dependent leading to the relativity of religious truth.

    Africans are a heterogenous group of peoples with widely differing languages, cultures and models of worship. Early writers on Africa looked at these differences and described the modes of worship as tribal religions, not seeing how these could fit into their scheme of understanding of religions, described them as paganism, animism, ancestral worship, polytheism, etc. Modern writers agree that these descriptions were largely wrong but how do they fit them into the religions of the world? Christianity, as believed by Christians, has a simple answer: the African worship is no religion or is a false religion. Islam will similarly not recognise it because no African prophet is mentioned in the Qur'an. But how do the Bahá'is see this matter?

    From the Bahá'i writings these points are clear: there are many prophets whose names we do not know; every land has had its prophet at one time or the other; the knowledge of God by any people is through the advent of a prophet of God there; religion changes its nature over time through corruption, adulteration, etc. and every religion was suited to the people at the time of its advent. It is, from the Bahá'i perspective, therefore not too difficult to see the legitimacy behind the African modes of worship. If the African modes of worship are looked at very closely, there are more similarities than differences -- which fact enables us to see these various modes of worship as variants of one religion rather than different religions. This paper looks at these differences and similarities. African Religion is also compared to traditional religions of other peoples and a suggestion is made that the name "African Traditional Religion" is a misnomer.

    The African Religion may be looked at in terms of its beliefs, practices and values. There the beleifs which at best may be regarded now as superstitious. They may have served some purposes in the past but will need to be looked at scientifically and modified as appropriate. Likewise some practices and values which may not promote progress. In this paper the common ground between the Bahá'i Faith and African Religion is explored and the differences reviewed. Where they differ, areas of change to the African Religion to make it conform to the modern world view are discussed. There are the values and practices which, by all standards, are admirable and need to be encouraged. These are also discussed. If an African sees his or her traditional religion being in so much conformity with the Bahá'i Faith, it should not be too difficult for him to accept the Bahá'i Faith as a fulfilment of his expectation as an African worshipper.

this paper is not yet online